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2011 Frankfurt Auto Show highlights

Frankfurt Auto Show
A bigger Porsche 911. A Maserati SUV. A Lamborghini that is actually lightweight. Such are some of the highlights currently on display in Frankfurt, Germany. Officially it's known as the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA), but we humans call it the Frankfurt Auto Show.

Photos: Highlights of the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

Held every two years in this banking city (including the European Central Bank), there's plenty of pricey eye candy at this year's event. Joining the three aforementioned brands are automakers such as Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari,  Fisker, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes Benz and Peugeot.

On the more humble side of things, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Mazda, Subaru and Volkswagen are also showcasing new and future products.

The best part of all this? Nearly every car making its global debut at this show, will be making its North American debut in Los Angeles. The L.A. Auto Show runs from Nov. 18 to Nov. 27.

So read on for some of the highlights from this year's Frankfurt event and start picking your favorites for L.A.


-- David Undercoffler

Mini-drone maker AeroVironment swings to quarterly profit


AeroVironment Inc., the Monrovia company that makes small hand-held drones for the Pentagon and charging systems for electric vehicles, swung to a profit in its first quarter, bolstered by a 62% increase in sales.

The company Wednesday posted earnings for the quarter ended July 30 of $326,000, or 1 cent a share, compared with a loss of $3.4 million, or 16 cents, a year earlier. Analysts on average had forecast a profit of 1 cent a share.

AeroVironment is the Pentagon's top supplier of small drones, which include the Raven, Wasp and Puma models. The technology enables troops on the ground to see what lies over a hill or down the road.

In a conference call, AeroVironment Chief Executive Timothy E. Conver said the company’s drones are still in demand despite expectations of cuts in Pentagon spending. Drone sales for the quarter increased 56% to $52 million from $33 million a year earlier.

But to expand business in the future the company, known as AV, “will have to go beyond military applications,” Carver said.

The company’s family of small drones will be well positioned to address the “largely untapped potential” of flying drones in commercial airspace for tasks like monitoring public safety, Conver said. “This market is likely to develop in the next few years and be both global and large once it emerges.”

AeroVironment’s total revenue was up 62% to $62 million.

Sales of the company’s charging systems for electric vehicles rose 105% to $9.8 million.

AeroVironment rolled out its residential charging stations for the Nissan Leaf this year and struck a key deal with Nissan Canada to expand the program internationally. German automaker BMW also contracted with the company to build and install home charging systems for its ActiveE all electric vehicle.

“EV charging infrastructure is seen by many as a huge new market opportunity and it has attracted global competition,” Conver said.

The results were reported after the close of regular trading. AeroVironment shares closed up $1.75, or 6.2%, at $29.99.


Century City aircraft leasing firm files for public offering

Northrop to reduce workforce by 500 people

Boeing satellite-making operation in El Segundo turns 50

-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: Soldier demonstrates AeroVironment's hand-launched Raven drone. Credit: AeroVironment Inc.

Volt electric vehicle production ramps up

Electric cars still continue to only trickle into the market.

General Motors said that it sold only 300 of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sedans in August, bringing its total for the year to 3,172.

Meanwhile, Nissan North America said it sold 1,362 of its battery-electric Leaf in August and 6,187 since its December launch. Nissan said its Leaf supply is stable and that it will be able to sustain the sales rate.

Combined, the cars account for not quite 10,000 sales this model year.  Meanwhile, the industry sells more than 1 million gasoline-powered vehicles a month.

"Shopper consideration for the Leaf and the Volt is flat, and down from earlier in the year. Consumer awareness just doesn't seem to be significant yet," said analyst Ivan Drury.

GM took its Detroit-Hamtramck plant down for about two months to make changes to ramp up production of the Volt and the Ampera –- its sibling for the European market.  But now it is up and running, and manufacturing capacity this year will increase to 16,000 cars.

Some of that will be sucked up by exports and a fleet of several hundred demonstration units sent to U.S. dealers so that Chevrolet can expand sales nationwide.

In 2012, GM plans to build 60,000 of the vehicles, with an estimated 45,000 to be delivered in the United States.


Auto sales rise in August

Consumer guide to electric vehicles

Can the auto industry prevent a recession?

-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: A Chevrolet Volt gets charged at a GM factory in Detroit. Credit: Reuters


Kadafi's electric Fiat 500 is rebel prize

Photo: A rebel pushes a custom Fiat 500 electric car inside Moammar Kadafi's main compound in Bab al-Azizia in Tripoli, Libya, on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Credit: AP Photo / Sergey Ponomarev An expensive, super custom electric version of the Fiat 500 has become a prize in the civil war in Libya.

Nick Squires, a reporter in Rome for the British newspaper the Telegraph, writes that such a Fiat built especially for Moammar Kadafi  “was part of the booty seized by anti-Kadafi rebels this week when they overran the Libyan leader’s huge Bab al-Azizia compound.

Squires said the vehicle cost about $150,000 and was customized in Italy and “bears some of the bizarre hallmarks of the Kadafi personality cult."

For example, in place of the Fiat logo on the hood, Kadafi had a black map of Africa with Libya  highlighted in green. Elsewhere, the interior features an image of a tribal leader known as 'The Lion of the Desert’ who fought Italian troops during in the 1920s and '30s, he said.

Americans will be able to buy an electric version of the Fiat sometime next year. Chrysler Group, which is merging with Fiat and sells the gas version in the U.S. now, hasn’t released many details about the vehicle or any pricing data. 

But the company isn’t expected to offer a “George Washington” version commemorating  long past battles against the British or special options to put your state and a highlighted home city on the hood in place of the Fiat logo.   


Consumer guide to electric vehicles

California is Honda's stronghold

Can auto industry prevent recession?

-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: A rebel pushes a custom Fiat 500 electric car inside Moammar Kadafi's main compound in Bab al-Azizia in Tripoli, Libya, on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. Credit: AP Photo / Sergey Ponomarev

Coca-Cola beefs up green fleet

The world's largest soft-drink maker, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., wants you to know that your beverages may be delivered by a new hybrid or electric truck.

Coca-Cola hybrid electric truck Coca-Cola has nearly doubled the size of its greener fleet of trucks since 2010, company officials said, and they are making the claim of having the nation's largest low-emissions bottling fleet at a 1 p.m. event in downtown Los Angeles today.

The event will be held at Coca-Cola Refreshments of Southern California at 12th and Birch streets in downtown Los Angeles.

"We as a company are working very hard to get sustainability into our business practices, so we are transforming a good portion of our fleet with green technology with the intent to push our carbon footprint down and get better fuel efficiencies," said Tim Heinen, vice president of field operations for Coca-Cola's western region.

"By the end of the year, we will have more than 740 alternative-fuel vehicles operating throughout North America, and about 40% of them will be right here in California," Heinen said.

The Coca-Cola fleet currently has 691 hybrid electric medium-duty trucks, for example, with 43 more on order, he said

The total Coca-Cola fleet has about 10,000 trucks, Heinen said.

Ron Stassi, fleet manager for the company's western region, added that Coca-Cola hopes to be rolling out other new technologies, such as forklifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells for use in its warehouse in San Leandro.

He said the newer trucks have helped the company reduce its fuel costs by 22%.

Heinen said that more customers care about sustainability practices and are making purchases based on the efforts that businesses put into reducing their emissions footprint.

"We know that it does matter to people, and we want to show that we are trying to make a difference. We are committed to it," Heinen said.

-- Ronald D. White


Seaports take delivery of hydrogen fuel cell truck

Electric cars about to cost more in California

Interest in renewable energy may surge

Revenue rises but losses widen at Tesla electric car company

Electric car company Tesla Motors Inc. posted a loss of $58.9 million in the second quarter as it sunk money into developing its Model S sedan and a crossover that it is calling Model X.

Tesla, based in Palo Alto, is refurbishing an old Toyota factory in Fremont, where it plans to build the cars. The Model S, an all-electric luxury sedan, is expected to go on sale next year. Tesla Roadster

The loss was 53% larger than the $38.5 million the company lost in the same period a year earlier. Revenue, however, grew 105% to $58.2 million.

The gain was powered by more sales of Tesla’s Roadster sports car. The company has sold 1,840 and plans to build fewer than 700 more before the program ends next year.

Tesla’s revenue also was helped by development deals with other automakers. The company is developing the power train for the electric version of Toyota’s RAV4, which will go on sale next year.  It is also building electric drive components for a Mercedes-Benz model and the Smart fortwo.

The company said it now expects revenue to hit the $180-million to $190-million range for the year, up from previous estimates of $170 million to $185 million.

Tesla shares fell 14 cents to $27.20 on Wednesday. The stock is up 2% year-to-date.


A sneak peek at a prototype of Tesla's Model S

Consumer Reports rips new Civic 

Fuel economy ratings come up short 

-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: Tesla Roadster. Credit: Tesla Motors

Toyota, Ford hybrid vehicles rank highest

Toyota and Ford are producing the best hybrid vehicles, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In its annual review of hybrids, the organization ranked the Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion hybrid and Honda Civic hybrid as the top vehicles in the nonluxury segment of the market. The nonprofit group rated the Lincoln MKZ hybrid, built by Ford, and the Lexus CT 200H, a Toyota product, as the top luxury models. Prius

The rankings are based on a combination of fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions and the number of so-called options that buyers are forced to purchase when buying a hybrid version of a vehicle as opposed to how the standard gasoline model is sold.

“We are comparing each model to its conventional gasoline counterpart. The hybrid MKZ gives you a huge boost on fuel economy. You go from 21 to 39 miles per gallon,” said Don Anair, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Prius, which is a dedicated hybrid model, was measured against the Toyota Matrix because they have similar engine size, performance and interior space, Anair said.

Hybrid versions of SUVs, including the Chevrolet Tahoe and Volkswagen Touareg, generally fared poorly in the rankings, although the Toyota Highlander, Lexus 450h and Cadillac Escalade did get good marks.

The Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid, for example, gets less than a 10% improvement in its global warming emissions over the conventional version, the group said. Most hybrids get about a 40% emissions reduction.

Some “automakers are using the technology to increase power over the conventional model rather than to achieve fuel savings,” Anair said.

The top-selling hybrids achieve 30 mpg or better, he said, and that should be a guideline for automakers who want to have success in the market.

Anair said several automakers were working to make hybrid models more accessible to consumers.
Ford does not charge a premium over the conventional gasoline sedan to purchase its new Lincoln MKZ hybrid, the Union of Concerned Scientists noted. And Honda has dropped the price of its Insight hybrid.

“The overall finding is that there are number of models out there today that are delivering significant fuel savings to consumers and are good value. But out of the 34 hybrid models we evaluated, the majority are not delivering the fuel savings that are available with hybrid technology,” Anair said.

The rankings can be found here:


Automakers selling cars without spare tires

Californians pay more for auto repairs

June auto sales sluggish

-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: A Toyota Prius on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. Credit: Associated Press

Consumer Confidential: Safer small cars, cheaper gas, higher BofA checking fee

Crashpic Here's your that's-all-right-mama Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--You can save money at the gas pump and consider yourself safe to boot. None of the 13 small, fuel-efficient cars recently tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety were rated poor in any of the four key crash tests. Six of them were even given the coveted Top Safety Pick rating in their size class. The ratings are based on performance in front-, side-, rollover- and rear-impact evaluations. Cars that earn the top rating of good in each test and come with electronic stability control qualify for Top Safety Pick. Among the safest small cars: the 2012 Ford Focus, 2011 Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Lexus CT 200h hybrid, 2011 Nissan Juke and the 2011 Toyota Prius. The Dodge Caliber, Honda CR-Z and Insight hybrids, Nissan Sentra and Versa, Scion xD, and Suzuki SX4 also were rated but didn't come in as top safety picks.

--Speaking of saving money at the pump, it looks we'll be keeping a little more cash in our pockets this Memorial Day weekend. The national average price for unleaded regular gasoline was $3.81 a gallon on Thursday -- 9 cents less than it was a week ago, according to AAA. Consumers in California, Washington, Illinois and five other states are paying the highest prices, between $3.91 and $4.28 a gallon. The lowest prices, between $3.57 and $3.69 a gallon, can be found in Wyoming, Arizona, parts of the Midwest and the South. Pump prices are expected to drift lower through the holiday weekend, reflecting lower oil prices, which are down about 12% since the beginning of May. AAA predicts nearly 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend, a slight increase from 2010.

--Lastly, Bank of America customers with basic checking accounts should brace for a 34% increase in their monthly service charge. The bank is now charging $12, up from $8.95. BofA and other banks have been hiking fees (and adding new ones) to counter what they say are losses related to new regulations imposed on their practices. BofA will waive the monthly fee if you make at least one direct deposit a month into the account, but now you have to put in a bigger amount. In the past, that direct deposit could be any sum. Now it has to be at least $250. An average balance of at least $1,500 will also allow you to steer clear of the $12 monthly charge. Or you can perhaps pay a visit to your local credit union and see how they're prepared to compete for your business.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Crash tests show that a car doesn't have to be big to be safe. Credit: Associated Press


New fuel economy labels for cars and trucks unveiled by DOT, EPA

LABEL Federal regulators have unveiled new fuel economy labels for passenger vehicles in the program’s most extensive overhaul in 30 years.

Beginning with cars and trucks from model year 2013, fuel costs and comparisons of environmental impact to other vehicles will be displayed on the decals, which were developed by the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The labels must be affixed to all new vehicles, including those that run on gasoline, diesel, electricity or a mix. Authorities ditched a proposal to use letter grades after intense opposition from automakers.

“Reducing our consumption and demand for oil is the best way to reduce upward pressure on fuel prices,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a conference call with reporters. “The old cars have become outdated. A new generation of cars requires a new generation of fuel economy labels.”

The new decals will display a plethora of details. The estimated annual fuel cost is there. So are the standard miles-per-gallon figures for city and highway driving.

New features, however, include the amount of fuel or electricity the vehicle will need to go 100 miles, as well as the expected savings or cost of fuel over the next five years compared with the average new vehicle.

Drivers will also be able to see how vehicles stack up against others in smog, tailpipe emissions and fuel economy on a one-to-10 scale. The miles-per-gallon range for same-class vehicles is included, as is the highest fuel economy among all vehicles, including electrics.

Plug-in hybrids and electric vehicle decals will also show driving range and charging times, as well as a figure for miles-per-gallon equivalent, or MPGE.

“It’s been all hands on deck in this administration letting people know that we’re not just sitting around waiting for high gasoline prices to come down,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Gasoline prices are killing family budgets.”


-- Tiffany Hsu

Video: Environmental Protection Agency


Electric vehicles may bring new sticker shock: multiple mileage ratings

EPA fuel economy labeling: Is there a better metric than MPG or MPGe?

Consumer Confidential: Better car labels, easier e-banking, CPK's new daddy

Stickerpic Here's your howlin'-wolf Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- If you're shopping for a new car, you'll soon have better info for making a purchase. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation have unveiled new fuel economy labels for cars and trucks -- the most significant update since 1975, when the feds first required fuel economy data. Designed to provide more detailed information about vehicles' fuel efficiency, estimated annual fuel cost and environmental effect, the new stickers will be rolled out with 2013 model year vehicles, although some manufacturers may voluntarily adopt the new labels for the 2012 model year. The labels will, for the first time, allow consumers to compare energy use and cost for new-technology cars such as plug-in electrics. They will include estimates on the amount of money consumers will save or spend on fuel for the next five years compared with an average new vehicle. And they will estimate how much fuel or electricity is required to drive 100 miles.

-- E-banking is getting easier. Three of the four largest banks are launching a system that lets customers transfer money from their checking accounts using only a mobile number or e-mail address. The banks say the service, called clearXchange, will make payments easier than traditional money transfers, which require a bank routing number and move through a system controlled by Federal Reserve banks. The service is a joint venture between Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo. The banks expect to add other financial institutions, eventually creating an industry-wide utility for moving money. ClearXchange is an attempt by the banks to retain fee-weary customers who have embraced alternatives such as prepaid debit cards and EBay's PayPal money-transfer service.

-- CPK has a new daddy. Golden Gate Capital is buying California Pizza Kitchen for about $470 million in cash, ending a sales process that had gone on for more than a year. Under the terms of the deal, Golden Gate will pay $18.50 a share, or almost 11% more than CPK’s closing share price on Tuesday. "We have great respect for the California Pizza Kitchen brand," says Josh Olshansky, a Golden Gate managing director. "The business that the CPK team has built, with its great product offerings, makes it an ideal fit with our long-term oriented approach to investing." California Pizza Kitchen put itself up for sale in April 2010 after receiving interest from several buyout firms.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: New cars will soon have more informative stickers. Credit: Stephen Morton / Bloomberg News


Consumer Confidential: Holiday driving plans, Mickey D's marketing, more Volts

Ronaldpic Here's your I'm-looking-through-you Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- High gas prices won't deter us from taking to the roads this Memorial Day weekend. AAA projects 34.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday weekend, up 0.2% from last year. Most Americans -- 30.9 million -- will travel during the weekend by car. The average price for regular gasoline nationally is $3.91, up from $2.85 last year. Six out of 10 drivers say rising gasoline prices wouldn't affect their travel plans, according to AAA. Of the remaining four out of 10 who say rising gas prices would affect their plans, 70% said they would economize in other areas and the rest said they would take a shorter trip or travel by other means.

-- Ronald McDonald won't be deterred from marketing to kids. McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner said it's up to parents to decide what to feed their kids. The fast-food giant came under fire Wednesday when a watchdog group placed ads in papers across the country calling on the company to stop marketing to kids and to retire its longtime mascot, Ronald McDonald. The ads featured a letter signed by more than 600 health professionals and organizations. In response, Skinner told shareholders that "Ronald McDonald is an ambassador for McDonald's and he is an ambassador for good. He is the face of Ronald McDonald House Charities. He does not advertise unhealthy food to children. McDonald's does not advertise unhealthy food to children." He said he has received overwhelming support from parents and others who urged him to defend McDonald's marketing. Sure.

-- General Motors is all charged up about its Volt electric car. The company is significantly increasing capacity at the plant that makes the vehicle so it can produce up to 60,000 electric cars a year.
The Detroit-area factory now can produce about 16,000 of the cars every year. For potential buyers, that will mean the Chevy Volt will be in short supply for the next three months due to a monthlong shutdown to retool the plant. The Volt hit the U.S. market late last year and just over 1,700 have been sold through April.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: McDonald's says it will keep marketing to kids. Credit: McDonalds Corp.


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